Ulysse Nardin CEO Patrik Hoffmann Discusses An Incredible 2017 With America’s Cup, Artemis Racing, SIHH . . . And That’s Just The First 6 Months!
During the final weekend of the America’s Cup finals in Bermuda, during which Emirates Team New Zealand won the Auld Mug by defeating two-time winner Oracle Team USA, I had the chance to sit down with Ulysse Nardin’s CEO Patrik Hoffmann for a chat about 2017. So far the year has been quite different – and quite successful – for the Le Locle-based watchmaker.
As Ulysse Nardin is part of the publicly listed Kering group, Hoffmann may not talk concrete numbers, but it was very interesting to get his impressions of 2017, especially in light of the closing weekend of Ulysse Nardin’s very first marketing sponsorship (with Artemis Racing) and the brand’s very first participation at the SIHH in January.
“The decision was made two and a half years ago to commit to this sponsorship, and it was the first time that we have done something like this in such magnitude,” Hoffmann explained as we looked at some new watches in the tea room of the lovely Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa in Bermuda. “For me, it was important that the sponsorship be related to Ulysse Nardin so that no one would ever ask, ‘Why did you choose the America’s Cup?’ For everyone, within the company and outside it, the whys and wherefores of this sponsorship are clear.”
From my standpoint the sponsorship seemed quite successful as it certainly raised brand awareness in the sailing world, where Ulysse Nardin is historically at home. But I wanted to know if Hoffmann was able to measure the success of this endeavor with the Artemis Racing team, which made it to the semi-finals of the America’s Cup.
“At the end of the day you cannot measure everything, but there has been a lot of growing brand awareness,” Hoffmann explained before revealing that he has indeed been keeping close numerical track of the campaign’s success. “We see, of course, the impact after an event in terms of website visits and direct communication with consumers. What was most important for us was the relationship to end consumers, to our retailers, who are our partners, and to the press. That for sure worked out and I can say today that it is actually my goal to ensure that we can continue this partnership. I don’t know if this is possible, but at the moment there is at least a willingness on our side.”
“My relationship to the team started two and a half years ago, when I visited the base (at that time) in San Francisco. There were about 120 team members and I talked to all of them; for me, it was stunning to see how that team worked, and I compared it to Ulysse Nardin – and found it to be very similar,” Hoffmann continued. “You have the people in the background, who make the product work, and in the case of the America’s Cup, everything has to do with weight. Everything has to be very strong and hard, but very light, and this reminded me very much of Ulysse Nardin’s silicium [Ulysse Nardin’s silicon technology -ed], a material that is very light, but very hard. The resemblance was a stunning thing for me.”
After getting my own first taste of the Artemis Racing team at an event in Bermuda in 2015 (see Ulysse Nardin Marine Diver Artemis Racing Watch Race Winner In Bermuda), I understood how easy it was to become a fan of the Swedish team and its energetic squad of 120 sailors, technicians, boat builders, engineers, and assorted crew. I wondered if Hoffmann, who has owned a boat, felt the same way.
“We are probably, I would say, that Artemis sponsor who has supported the team by being at every event, bringing people there. The team has visited us in Switzerland, and we have visited them. Our partnership is very ‘family driven’ on both sides,” he confirmed.
“And part of the goal for me was to make sure that all our employees were able to associate themselves with this partnership, so we did a lot of communication about it internally. We continue to communicate about it internally now, during the races, because we wanted our people to associate themselves as a team with something outside the actual watch industry. For me, even that, the bonding within La Chaux-de-Fonds, and our retailers, our end consumers, and our journalists, was important. It was not only about winning, although I would have loved to have seen Artemis in the finals.”
Artemis Racing made a fantastic go of its bid as a challenger at the 35th America’s Cup, but the team unfortunately lost in the semifinals to the eventual Cup winner, Emirates Team New Zealand.
“I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed at least a little,” Hoffmann admitted with a smile, providing a rare personal insight. “I’m glad they made it that far; I think it was all about good sports. I think those races were of the most attractive ones because they were very tough. They had to deal with extreme wind conditions and I think for the spectators, they really brought it.”
In January 2017, Ulysse Nardin exhibited its watches for the first time at the SIHH instead of at Baselworld where the brand first participated 100 years ago, back in 1917 at the inaugural fair.
However, Hoffmann is sure that his decision to move to the SIHH was the right one. “I’ll just say that a year ago I believed it was right, and after being at SIHH for one or two days I knew that we made the right decision. This fair really allowed us to showcase what Ulysse Nardin is about; we were able to really tell a story and, of course it was a success.”
Part of that story was an Artemis boat in the entryway of the brand’s SIHH booth, something that really caused a splash.
Hoffmann explained why he thought the fair was such a big success, “There are two aspects: of course, it’s the number of contacts, but it’s also the quality of the contacts. I can tell you that we saw the majority of our global retailers at SIHH. The success, of course, lies a lot with the product you show, that’s probably more important than the venue. Of course, we know that at SIHH 2017 we had stirring products.”
I too felt that Ulysse Nardin made a big impression at its first showing at SIHH with products such as the InnoVision 2 concept watch, the Marine Regatta, the Hourstriker Pin-Up, and the very competitively priced Marine Tourbillon.
“We had a lot of feedback, and I think we made a big entry,” Hoffmann agreed. “I think it was important for us because we were the newcomers, and we knew people would be watching us. So we had to make sure we did it right, and I think the statement we made with the boat was quite bold – and that’s typically Ulysse Nardin. We are a very traditional brand, but we don’t have to be shy and we can do things differently. I still see Ulysse Nardin, in many ways, as a company that sometimes acts like a start-up.”
And one of the reasons for this is the many faces of the watch that in its own way changed much about the way we view high watchmaking today: the Freak.
“Who calls a timepiece the Freak? We are still not shy about doing things like that. It’s good to have that culture, which is very entrepreneurial, even after the takeover of Kering. And that’s part of my daily work; to try to keep that edginess alive even though we are part of a group.”
Hoffmann says he is very much looking forward to SIHH 2018, where we will be seeing timepieces that incorporate four of the innovations that were found in 2017’s InnoVision 2. Wow, that was fast!
All of this good news made me wonder if Ulysse Nardin has had an overall good, or perhaps even great, year . . .
“Yes, definitely,” Hoffmann answered enthusiastically. “We had a very strong first five months of this year, so we for sure have gained major market share. After the first six months I’m very positive that we are on the right track. The key to success always is the product.”
You might also enjoy:
Understanding The America’s Cup’s Fascination With Time
America’s Cup 2017: The Final Round Gets Underway . . . And There’s A Watch Brand For Each Team In This Epochal 166-Year-Old Regatta
Disclaimer: Elizabeth Doerr’s travel to Bermuda was sponsored by Ulysse Nardin.